Daniela Harper first heard of her father’s plans to start a war against the throne at the dinner table.
Another hot summer’s day was passing in the family castle at Shanroe. She broke her fast with fruit and cheese, went out horse-riding in the morning, and painted by the riverside in the afternoon. She did note that a small retinue of her father’s banner-people entered the castle, bearing the arms of House Cale, a small-time military household several miles south that served under House Harper. As the day waned, she heard whispers from her handmaidens and castle servants that her father, Lord Wallace, was holding discussions with Lady Christina and Commander John Stanley. What they were discussing, Daniela did not dare hazard a guess. She tried to keep out of her father’s affairs as much as possible.
When her father’s request for dinner had been brought to her by the butler, her handmaidens busied themselves preparing her fit for presentation. They bathed her in rich oils and soaps purchased far away from the Jade Isles, and washed and combed her long chestnut brown hair. After she dried off, they stood her on a stall, where they fitted her into her favourite evening gown – a beautiful long flowing green dress, given to her by her Aunt Gladys as a birthday gift last year.
After she was dressed, she was escorted by bodyguards down to the second floor of the castle. There, they walked her to the dining room, where her father and brother awaited. Lady Christina Cale had joined them as well, and sat opposite Daniela’s brother.
Lord Wallace Harper looked up from his empty plate as she entered. He was a stern man in his mid-forties, with no hair on top but plenty on his chin. “You’re late.” It was not an accusation, nor a prelude to anger; but simply a statement.
Daniela bowed her head respectfully. “Apologies, Father. I was getting ready.”
Her brother leered. At nineteen, Lucas was the older Harper sibling. He was just pushing six foot, and had a thick head of curly brown hair. His blue eyes were as cold as ice, and he had a mocking smile. “Perhaps your handmaidens should all be replaced. They can come serve me instead, I have just the task for them.”
“Be quiet, Lucas,” said Wallace. He gestured towards the empty seat at the table. “Sit.”
Daniela did as she was told, and Lady Christina smiled warmly at her as she sat down next to Lucas.
“Daniela, so lovely to see you again,” she said. Lady Christina was a woman nearing the end of her middle age, yet she did not look it. Her olive-toned skin had only a few wrinkles, and her blonde hair was only mildly greying and thinning out. She wore a tunic that was pure white and stainless. “Even more beautiful than the last I saw of you. You’re growing into quite the woman.”
“Thank you, Lady Christina. I hope your family is well,” she said as her father snapped his fingers.
At once, three kitchen servers appeared, setting down a bowl of pastries filled with pork. After bowing to Lord Wallace, they quietly left the room. Lucas immediately began to tuck into the food.
Lord Wallace stared at his son incredulously. “Lucas, what in the Twins’ name do you think are you doing?”
With half a pastry hanging out of his mouth, Lucas gave his father a guilty look. He quickly swallowed his mouthful and set his fork down. “Forgive me, Father.”
“Be more courteous next time we sit down to eat; we have a guest here. I did not raise my children to be common pigs,” Lord Wallace reminded him. He turned to his daughter. “Daniela, would you like to say the blessings?”
Daniela shifted noisily in her seat, caught on the spot. Religion had always bored her, and she was at best sceptical about the existence of the Twin Gods – a pair of almighty beings that had allegedly shaped the world and created all creatures. However, her family had always held tradition, and she learned to as well. “Oh… um, yes.” Pausing, she cleared her throat, noting her father’s expectant look. “O’ Twins, holy by thy name, we thank you for the food we are about to eat. May we remain blessed and fortuitous in your eternal presence.”
Lord Wallace nodded his approval, and they ate their starter. He remained silent whilst Lady Christina attempted to make small-talk with his children. Daniela and Lucas responded courteously as their father observed them. At a young age the Harper children had learned that Lord Wallace did not make idle talk over meals.
After the starter, the kitchen servants collected the plates and brought them the main course – freshwater fish caught from the river that day. Again, they ate with little talk, and Daniela could see that Lady Christina was not used to such a quiet mealtime.
Once they were finished and the plates were cleared away, Lord Wallace coughed. It was not due to illness; he merely wanted to attract attention. His children looked at him, waiting upon whatever words he wished to expend on them.
“Lucas, Daniela; the time has come for me to inform you both of a matter of great importance,” he began slowly, considering heavily each word. “You may be wondering why I have invited Lady Christina here today. In fact, many invitations by letter have been sent out recently, to all the lords and ladies in Cantaria.” He paused, and looked at each of his children in turn whilst Lady Christina smiled. “A war is coming. A war that I am going to start, one that will cement the House Harper in the history books. A civil war; a rebellion, to be precise.”
Daniela’s stomach fell, and she felt her heart began to race. She tried to maintain composure, and swallowed the little gasp of surprise that had been brewing in her throat.
“War?” repeated Lucas. “Against who?”
Lord Wallace gave his son an exasperated, condemning look. “What is the definition of civil war, Lucas?”
Daniela’s brother’s face turned red, so she decided to speak up. “A civil war is when people of the same country go to fight each other.”
“Quite so,” agreed Lord Wallace. “I shall be marching against the capital.”
“You mean to fight King William?!” asked Lucas, surprised. He then laughed to himself, saying: “Would such a man even know how to fight back?”
Daniela thought that was most unkind of her brother. King William was well-known across Cantaria to have learning difficulties; it was said that he had the body of a man but the mind of a child. Still, she hated the way people talked about him.
Lord Wallace nodded. “That simpleton has been on the throne for six months now, and the kingdom of Cantaria has become a laughing stock. I am told that men and women from faraway kingdoms amuse themselves telling tales of the idiot king and his cripple brother that rule over us good people. A cripple that I might add, is the Regent of the Throne.”
Daniela had once met the King’s brother, Prince Gideon Fyedragon. As a child of eight, her father had brought the family down to the capital to visit the then-King Harold. His son, Prince Gideon, had been about eleven years old at the time, and seemed incredibly shy. His most famous fact was that he suffered from a condition known as ‘palsy’; it was said that his entire left side had stiff muscles that did not function properly. Other more interesting rumours that had come to light recently was that he had been jailed temporarily, falsely accused of murdering his father. Word came from the capital not long afterwards that he had been acquitted, but the entire affair had a mysterious air hanging over it.
“I was fostered with the Fyedragons as a child,” her father went on. “I grew up with King Harold. And let me tell you, if he saw the state his sons have left the throne in, he would turn in his grave. What sane man would allow a kingdom to be governed by a simpleton and a cripple? Our beloved kingdom will turn to ashes unless we take a stand. That is why I have written to the great and small Houses of this land, asking that they join me.” He looked over to Lady Christina and nodded, and she returned with a smile. “House Cale was the first to respond, and that will not be forgotten.”
“So we’re going to kill the Fyedragons?!” exclaimed Lucas, his mouth widening in pleasure.
“Indeed, and their uncle Edmund too,” explained Lord Wallace. “I never liked him much, nor trusted him. When I heard that my friend King Harold had been murdered in his bed, I suspected his treacherous brother might have had a hand in it. I would not be surprised to find out I was correct.”
“But who will be King after you kill the Fyedragon?” asked Daniela, already suspecting the answer.
With a chillingly blank face, Lord Wallace answered: “Me.”
Lucas grinned with boyish excitement. “Does this mean I’ll be King one day?!”
“If we win this rebellion,” nodded Lord Wallace. “It is for the economic security and well-being of this kingdom that it has a firm, wise ruler. I know Harold would have agreed with this sentiment. Better me than the fool who sits the throne nowadays.”
“When do we begin?” asked Lucas eagerly.
“When more Houses declare for me. No doubt more will be arriving over the next few days. I have promised lands and gold to all who ride with me against the Fyedragons. The first House to publicly announce their intent to take up arms against me will be met with a short, swift fate.” He studied his son silently for a few moments. “It is not my wish that you join me, Lucas.”
Daniela saw the look of utter disappointment on her brother’s face. She assumed she would be staying in the castle too, and was secretly glad. Her hands were made for paintbrushes, not swords.
Lord Wallace held up his hand as Lucas went to speak. “No, I have other tasks for you, son. You’ll be liaising with Lady Christina, and overseeing something of great importance. It must be kept quiet.”
“What is it?” asked Lucas.
Lord Wallace looked back at Lady Christina, and allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction – a rare sight. She returned the look, and Daniela felt mildly uncomfortable, and put her head down, not wanting to let it show. “We have something the Fyedragons don’t. A weapon, never seen before in this world.”